Walking in Madeira: Ponta de São Lorenço Peninsula

As we landed at Funchal, one of the flight attendants said that it was the first time she had been on a plane that had landed on its first attempt. We had had a 100mph tail wind so had arrived 25 minutes early but did not experience any of the gusts of wind that Madeira’s airport is renowned for. These often lead to landings having to be aborted and re-attempted. Apparently after the third failed attempt the plane has to divert to Lisbon. The runway has been extended and now projects over the sea supported by concrete columns. Funchal is named after ‘funcho’, the Portuguese word for fennel which it is said, was abundant when Zarco landed here in 1419. Madeira means ‘wood’ which is somewhat ironic as the first settlers began burning and ultimately completely destroying the primeval forest and indigenous flora and fauna. Much of the current flora has been introduced from all corners of the earth.

We had dinner that evening in a restaurant specialising in local food. Dessert was strawberries from the restaurateur’s farm. On our way out, we noticed that the local cats and dogs were gathering, ready to eat the scraps they are given. Walking along a cobbled street back to the hotel, we passed lots of street art including these examples on a derelict building.

The following morning after passing through Machico, (the first place Portuguese explorers landed in 1419) we stopped at a viewpoint on the coast.


Feral cats were hanging around hoping for food. Just before we left, a local woman drove up and began to feed them.

Our first walk was an 8km circuit involving climbing the equivalent of 119 flights of stairs on the Ponta de São Lorenço National Park peninsula. By the national park centre, we spotted several canaries but none of them stayed still long enough for a photograph. The volcanic geology gives rise to many scenic views although it was very windy. It was busy, but it was a Sunday and in the Easter holiday season.




Afterwards we drove inland west to Porto da Cruz which is the first eastern town on the north coast. We had a tasting session of a local fish like tuna (Gaiado Seco) which is salted and dried in sand. It was served with olive oil, tomatoes and onions with bread. The sugar cane mill, ’Engenhos do Norte operates between March to May. In the 15th and 16th centuries Madeira was a major producer of sugar which was known as ‘white gold’. The current distillery makes rum. They have a machine used to pump fresh sugarcane juice up to the fermentation tanks which was manufactured by Jones Burton & Co of Liverpool. Another piece of machinery was made in Oakland, California.

Further on, Faial has a hill 598m high called ‘Eagle Rock’ where ospreys nest.

Nearby we had a madeira wine tasting session in a cellar, sampling 12 year old and 19 year old samples. Returning to the road we passed several people (some in national costume) returning to the church following the blessing of a house which often takes place after Easter.

The new road passes through the longest tunnel in Europe which is over 3km long. New road construction and tunnel building has expanded in Madeira in the last few years and has improved communications and transport. However, there is a feeling amongst some, that it is going too far. Our destination was Santana, our base for the night. It is renowned for the traditional thatched A frame houses in the area.

The weather was now deteriorating. The jet stream has diverted further south this year leaving northern Europe with a much colder spring but wetter weather occurring further south, including Madeira.

A few days in Florence


The ‘Beast from the East’ and Storm Emma made us wonder whether we would get away at all but by our departure day the snow had melted at home and local transport was getting back to normal, so our journey to London was uneventful. Much of the rest of the country was still suffering from the effects of which had battered the UK and other parts of Europe in the preceding few days. From our hotel near London City Airport we could see planes landing and were reassured that we would be on our way the following day. On arrival in Florence we treated to an upgrade by the hotel and settled in. It was situated a little out of the old city centre which turned out to be a blessing as even out of season, the old city is very busy. A 10-minute bus ride got us to the Duomo and cost less than it would in Edinburgh.

On our first morning we left the queues outside the Duomo and headed for the Leonardo da Vinci Museum. Florence is littered with museums and the very keen can opt for the 72 in 72 hours prepaid card, but it is probably better to be selective if you only have a few days. I find I can only process one gallery per day. The Leonardo da Vinci Museum has models of his many inventions and also covers his exploration of human anatomy. Most of his drawings are held elsewhere in the world, some at Windsor Castle. The museum has interactive sections where children can build models. Afterwards, fortified with coffee, we wandered down towards the river where the Ponte Vecchio was very crowded.

The craze for putting padlocks on bridges has reached Florence.

Walking around the city we encountered a chocolate market. Florence is well-supplied with bookshops, both new and secondhand and a lovely shop selling hand-printed paper where I bought some gifts. Navigating around some parts were made tricky due to the tram system work and extensions.

On our second day we visited the Galleria dell’Accademia getting soaked en route by a heavy thunderstorm and hail.

The gallery is housed in rooms dating from the 14th century and which used to be part of the hospital of San Mateo and a monastery. It is famous for Michelangelo’s David

but also houses the four statues of the Slaves commissioned by pope Julius II as a decoration of his grave which are known as “The Prisoners” and other works. There are rooms full of medieval and later paintings by Florentine artists, rooms devoted to plaster models for sculpture, fabrics and a museum of musical instruments.


It was certainly worth getting there early as when we left in the late morning, it was getting fairly busy. The sun had emerged, so we had our lunch on a bench in a piazza with pigeons and house sparrows watching in case we dropped a crumb.

Our second day coincided with International Women’s Day. The Uffizi Gallery had an exhibition devoted to the work of Elisabetta Sirani, an Italian Baroque painter from Bologna. I was not familiar with her work. She died unexpectedly at 27 but in her short life produced 200 paintings, 15 etchings, and hundreds of drawings. The most frequently depicted woman in the Uffizi is of course the Virgin Mary but I also spotted this series of paintings, some by Botticelli, each woman representing a virtue;

I enjoyed seeing works I have known from History of Art classes at school and even the ceilings are magnifcent.

The funeral of the Italian footballer who died last week was being held in Florence at the Basilica de Santa Croce on Thursday and we saw people walking home afterwards. There were also demonstrations following the murder of a Senegalese man at his market stall on Monday.

The sun had come out and before we returned to our hotel, we enjoyed a gelato. Growing up in Scotland, many towns had an Italian gelateria selling a product far superior to the Walls and Lyons Maid sold in regular shops. Some Scots-Italians’ ancestors arrived in Scotland in the late 19th century having escaped famine and poverty in their homeland. Today, many remain in the catering industry.

All too soon our brief stay was at an end but we will return as there is so much more to see.

New things in familiar places



Kelpies were mythical water horses which could transform into humans. However, artist Andy Scott also based his work on the heavy horses which supplied the industry of the area including drawing the barges on the adjacent Forth & Clyde canal. Duke, the downward-looking Kelpie is 26.5m high and Baron, the upward-looking one is 30m high.

I remember heavy horses still being used by a brewery in Stirling in the 1970s. We lived in Falkirk for a year in the 1960s and I have not really been back since. The Kelpies were completed in 2013 and I have driven past them on the M9 but this was the first time we paused to walk around them. On a cold winter morning with the snow-covered Ochil Hills in the background, they were not busy at all.

We had spent the previous largely grey and wet day driving to Perthshire with only a few breaks in the weather. At Tebay, the ducks, resplendent in their breeding plumage, looked as if they were walking on water as just below the surface it was still frozen. On the north slopes of Shap the sun appeared briefly, and a rainbow stretched over the motorway. For once we were passing our usual turn-offs to Edinburgh and continuing north into Perthshire where I grew up. Just before Doune we stopped off at Deanston Distillery for the obligatory photograph and sampling. My clarinet teacher was from Doune. I played in the county wind band and in the early 1970s, some of us played at the wedding of Lord Doune’s daughter which took place in the medieval castle. It has since become more well-known as it has been used in some films including Monty Python’s and Game of Thrones.

We drove back towards Dunblane on the road my school bus used to take. One of the farms we passed has now become a red kite viewing centre which will be worth a visit at some point. We were heading to Dunblane to spend a night in Cromlix House just north of the town. The name Cromlix has existed in various forms since the 15th century although there is evidence of human settlement on the site before this. The Chisholms, several of whom were bishops of Dunblane before the reformation had a castle on the site as late as 1723. A marriage in the 16th century introduced the Drummond name which became Drummond Hay in 1739. A later marriage brought the estate into the Eden family who still own much of it, a reminder that only 500 people own most of the land in Scotland. The hotel is in what was initially built as ‘Cromlix Cottage’ in 1874. It was destroyed by fire and in 1880 was rebuilt. There is no sweeping staircase in keeping with the ‘cottage’ theme. The house was enlarged between 1880 and 1903. It was converted into a hotel in 1981 and we spent the first night of our honeymoon there in May 1987. It closed in 2012 but in the following year was purchased by Andy Murray and it opened again as five-star hotel in 2015. It has a Chez Roux restaurant and is situated in the hamlet of Kinbuck amongst the hills and woods that I love. Unfortunately the weather did not allow any wandering around them. It remained cold with snow and sleet showers during the rest of our weekend.

A wet weekend in Brighton


I had first visited Brighton a couple of years ago for work and James joined me for a day or so after the conference. We had both felt it warranted a second visit and booked this trip last autumn. It turned out to be a good time to be heading south rather than to Scotland with wintry weather blocking roads up there. On the day we arrived the University of Sussex were holding a graduation ceremony in the theatre near our hotel. There were many Chinese families taking photographs along the sea front. We did get a couple of breaks in the rain for a bracing walk on the mainly pebble beach in the late afternoon where the supports and the remains of the old West Pier are.


We spent some time wandering around the lanes where there are some chain stores but also many independent shops including some very quirky ones. One thing I did notice was that people we encountered in the hotel, cafes and shops were very friendly, unlike some other southern cities I have visited. Several years ago I stayed with a friend in Southampton in December and while she was at the university, I went into town to do some Christmas shopping. The only person who said anything more to me than the bare minimum to carry out the transaction was the Big Issue seller who was from Manchester.

Having visited the pavilion on our last trip, this time we explored the Museum and Art Gallery. It has a number of permanent galleries including one on 20th century furniture and art.

I was particularly struck by this lift compartment installed in Selfridges on Oxford Street, London in 1929. Designed by a French artist, Edgar Brandt and entitled ‘Les Cignones (storks) d’Alsace’ they remained in place until 1971 when they were removed because of new fire regulations.

There was a gallery devoted to Brighton in the 20th century with displays of mods and rockers who clashed on the seafront in 1964.

Other galleries contained their pottery, china and fine art collections, John Pipers aquatints of Brighton, performance and toys, youth projects in Brighton with youngsters from different countries exploring their culture and traditional costume including New Ireland, Myanmar, Peru, Canada and Alaska and Mali. There is also a collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts and the Museum of Transology.

All too soon it was time to head for home. Had it been drier I would have liked to walk the Undercliff Path which heads east for 3km and also to explore the huge amount of street art in the city including a Banksy.

Pop up Pop Art in Chester


Chester Visual Arts has had a free exhibition of 1960s Pop Art prints from the V&A collection on since the end of July. It finishes on Sunday and today, the Cheshire Art Fund had organised a pop up lecture on Pop Art by Adrian Sumner. This was a good excuse to get on the train and learn a little more about it. We had visited the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh last summer but my art studies at school did not venture beyond the end of the 19th century and a lot of the modern art I have studied since has been abstract modernism. The exhibition was of prints with some textiles and wallpaper. Photography was not allowed. After a bit of shopping, I returned for the lecture. Adrian covered a lot of material. I learnt that Eduardo Paolozzi produced some early Pop Art in the 1940s and 1950s. I know him mainly for his later sculpture (and looked after some of his relatives when I worked in Edinburgh 30 years ago) so it was interesting to discover some of his other works. Adrian took us through from the earliest days to modern artists in both Europe and the USA. As he has been a lecturer in art I was a little surprised that he went on for over 75 minutes (I left before the end at this point) and did not encourage audience participation. Outside on Northgate Street there are some three dimensional works. This sculpture was installed in 1992 as a celebration of Chester’s 900th anniversary celebrations.

There was also this baby elephant called Janya which means ‘life’ in Hindi sculpted by Annette Yarrow in 2010. She grew up in India in the 1930s and 1940s and this sculpture was a gift to the city from the zoo. It chimed with my interest in natural history because the other day I was reading something which said that while there are clear morphological differences between Asian and African elephant (including ear size), it has now been discovered that there may be at least two species of African elephants, the Savanna Elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) which look the same and are only distinguishable by DNA. A third species, the West African Elephant, has also been postulated.

On our way back to the station, we passed the cathedral which had this installation outside.

There was no notice to explain what it was and who created it and we did not have time to go inside and find out as we had a train to catch. I have used my art fund pass a lot, although this was the first local event I had been able to attend and they have been able to fund numerous artworks for the nation. Chester Visual Arts aims to establish a permanent contemporary arts centre in Chester and I wish them luck.

Ireland: Kilkenny and Carlow

We spent our last morning in the south exploring Kilkenny and Carlow before dropping our friends off at Dublin airport and heading north to spend a few days with relatives in North Antrim. Kilkenny has a lot of history with a medieval mile starting at the castle. The castle dates from 1192 having been constructed on the site of an earlier wooden structure but has been remodelled several times, most recently by the Butler family.

We did not tour inside but walked around the park surrounding the castle and the garden around the Dower House.


The park was busy with the Saturday Fun Run so we walked over to the Castle Yard which hosts the Design Centre and several craft studios. One display in the Design Centre Gallery called ‘Lustre’ was of jewellery produced by students based on the Faberge egg concept. They explored this theme and produce their own works encased in the egg. I also looked at some copper plate etchings as this is something I have planned to do at some point.

We looked in at some of the studios and found some ceramics we liked. After a coffee in the restaurant upstairs it was time to leave the tourists gathering outside the castle and return to the hotel for a cocktail (non-drivers only) and to digest the Irish Times before beginning our drive northeast to Carlow.

This is another town I had visited many years ago while working but I could remember little about it. Just as we were getting out of the car I met an elderly gentleman walking up the hill who paused just to take a breath. He told me that he was 88 and knew everything that there was to know about Carlow. He was keen to tell me that the river used to be bigger and have ‘really big’ boats on it. Now rowing seems to be the main waterborne activity. We walked over to the ruined castle

and then along the river path to the Millennium Bridge. Swans and a rook were keen to befriend us in case we had any food for them.


In the park ‘Bridging’ an installation containing works by teenagers on a 14-week project exploring life as a teenager in Carlow was on display.

This is one of the panels.

Carlow does have an art institute and walking back to the car, we passed some street art entitled ‘Wall R Us: is it a wall or is it us?’.

Having dropped our friends off at the airport we continued on the motorway to the border. Just north of Dublin we noted that we had driven 700 miles on this trip so far. There were still tractors on the motorway and the six-lane road it becomes across the border. Summer seemed to be ending as we made our way to North Antrim in rain. Fortunately this did not last and the sun and blue skies returned for the remainder of our trip.

Ireland: wandering about Cork


We began our day in Cork with coffee. The aim was to plan our day and this cafe near our hotel was very appropriate for me as a writer, reader and someone who does voluntary work in a bookshop.

It did not disappoint and Having topped up the caffeine levels, our first destination was Cork Old Gaol on the other side of the river. We took a slightly circuitous route along the Mardyke Riverside Pathway which is a tunnel of green. This is the Mardyke Bridge.

This part of path we were on is entirely within the city near the university. It took us past Cork Museum which is situated in a park with sculptures among the trees and plants. The museum is free to visit.

Our next destination was Cork Old Gaol which was closed in 1923. You can go on a guided tour or by yourself with an audio guide or guidebook. We chose the last option.


Some of the rooms have models and furnishing depicting life in the gaol and there are also displays about notable prisoners. If you wish, you can have your photograph taken in the stocks. Caffeine levels were topped up again at the cafe here before heading back towards the city centre. We were aiming for the Crawford Gallery but in the block on Lavitt’s Quay just west of it is Vibes and Scribes, a bookshop selling new, used and secondhand books. We found a few gems in the secondhand store. It also has a book group which meets weekly and an arts and craft store across the river in Bridge Street. At the Crawford Gallery which is also free to visit (donations are invited) we saw Harry Clarke’s drawings for stained glass windows entitled ‘The Eve of St Agnes’ and based on Keats’ poem.

The display also included two of his stained glass windows. We also watched Aideen Barry’s 2015 stop-motion film ‘Not to be known’ looking at the role of the ideal homemaker and working woman as she is seen by the media and enjoyed Danny McCarthy’s installation ‘Beyond silence: a bell rings in an empty sky’ is composed of ceramic and other bells he collected at car book sales and is on display until the end of August.

There is also a good collection of Irish artists’ work in both oil and water colours dating from the 18th to 21st centuries. We did not look at everything as we were beginning to flag and so wandered back towards the hotel picking up a late lunch at the indoor English Market in the city centre. One of the fish stalls had this large fish on display.

This evening we are off out for some food, drink and music which should not be hard to find in this great city where there is so much to choose from.